Now that the campaign is behind Jay Inslee – along with his much-needed post-election Hawaiian vacation to recover from all his fundraising – someone in his administration will need to prepare a draft budget for upcoming legislative session. As in years past, the budget will be largely ignored by the Democrat-majority in the House, as well as the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate.
Despite the fact that the Inslee budget will likely bear little resemblance to what the legislature passes sometime next year (May, maybe, June possibly, or later), state law requires he submit one in December. Usually Jay doesn’t get very deep, and produce an actual budget, but rather just an outline of what he wants – like his capital gains income tax proposal that went nowhere in 2014.
Inslee’s budget-writing task is compounded this year by the state Supreme Court insisting that the legislature produce a complete public education funding plan before adjournment. It is also made harder by the secret negotiations he conducted with his million-dollar campaign donors at the state employees union earlier this year, which he might to fund.
It is against this background – with a state economy that has added several hundred million dollars to the state’s treasury in recent years – that Inslee must produce his budget. And that’s why the fight is beginning now.
Rather than wait for Inslee to roll out yet another document that doesn’t quite meet legal requirements, the Senate Republicans’ new lead Senate budget writer, Sen. John Braun, just sent a letter to the administration reminding them of their legal requirement to write a budget which uses current revenues to fund its priorities – and not new taxes to pay for Inslee’s big pay increases for state employees, which must be deemed “financially feasible” before inclusion in the budget.
Braun’s letters points this reality out bluntly:
“I respectfully request, as you undergo your assessment of whether the 2017-19 CBAs (Collective Bargaining Agreements) are financially feasible, that you please carry out your statutory duty as the law was intended. Only certify the CBAs if they can be funded within existing law and revenues without jeopardizing essential services to our most vulnerable. Submit a real budget that reflects the kind of thoughtful choices responsible public officials are called upon to make. Our taxpayers and most vulnerable deserve nothing less.”
The ball is now in Inslee’s court, as the budget draft is due in mid-December. Will he follow the law this year?